You’re at a show by one of your favorite bands. They play an epic version of a song from their latest album, they introduce all the musicians, and they close the number with a flash of pyrotechnics. “Thank you very much!” cries the singer as the band heads offstage and the lights go down.
That leaves you standing in your spot, cheering and cheering and cheering and wondering when they’re going to come back out…because they are going to come back out, right? Of course they are, and they’re probably going to play one of their big hits.
Are you excited about that, or annoyed? Despite the storied status of the encore ritual, many fans think it’s time to be done with encores. I asked a few local artists and my colleagues at The Current what they thought about it.
“I think that encores are past their purpose,” says Morning Show host Jill Riley, “especially when bands are writing their fan-favorite into the encore. It’s all part of the show business.”
In the past, continued Jill, “an encore had a special meaning because it meant that a band put on a completely awesome show and the audience genuinely wanted more, so the band would respond and come out and play more. When people know that the encore is coming, you just don’t feel that same energy.”
“As a music fan who gets sore feet pretty easily,” agrees assistant producer Jesse Wiza, “let’s just save that time in between. Let the bar staff go home earlier, let me go home earlier. I’ll save on parking.”
Others aren’t ready to let go of a tradition that’s been part of the concert experience for decades. “I still kind of like the encore,” says program director Jim McGuinn. “It’s exciting as a fan to feel the end of the set, and then the band comes back and delivers some songs that they didn’t get to play earlier. Maybe it’s the rock and roll ritual, but I still kind of enjoy that process of that little palate-cleanser.”
Although midday host Jade would generally be glad for artists to keep things concise, she says, it’s hard to argue with the energy of a good encore. “Most of the encore experiences I’ve had have been great because usually they hold out the song you want to hear for the encore. And so you’re saying to yourself, ‘Oh, man, I’m really bummed they didn’t play that song.’ Encore hits, then you get it, it’s a moment of joy. There’s some dopamine released.”
Whether or not the artists actually step off stage, a moment of pause can refresh the energy of a room. “It lets you come back for the final sprint to the end line,” says Jim, a member of the band Saint Small. “Depending on the mood of the show, if you’re trying to leave it on an up-note or kind of ease out of it, it can be a mood changer. It can be a gear shift.”
The trick, says Radio Free Current host Sean McPherson, who’s also bassist in Heiruspecs, is to make the last songs of a set feel fresh instead of gratuitous. “Encores have become too predictable,” he says. “People do them all the time. People write them into their setlist. If you get a hold of a setlist and you see a little line, you know what’s coming afterwards.”
Singer-songwriter Lydia Liza adds, “I think encores have their time and place—but the art of the setlist is being able to curate the energy of the room for the whole show!”
Curation is key, says The Current’s assistant program director Kelsey. “I have seen Elvis Costello a number of times, and he always does really epic encores. He’ll do, like, four of them in a night. That’s appreciated, but I don’t know that it needs to be an encore for it to be impressive. He could just make a really epic set.”
What’s most gratifying, says Jill, is when an encore is truly spontaneous. “I did see a really cool encore moment in the 7th St Entry. Jain only had one record at the time. She performed, she left the stage, there was no encore planned. The crowd, like they did during the show, lost their minds. Jain came back out and said, ‘I don’t have any more songs,’ so she played ‘Makeba’ again. For me, that’s how it’s supposed to work.”
“I saw D’Angelo at the Orpheum in 2000,” Sean recalls. “He came out for the encore, one of the songs was ‘How Does It Feel,’ and for a long time after the band had set up the groove, it was just him working the groove, and I was like: this is encore-worthy material.”
Jim fondly remembers a recent Guided By Voices show. “They played about 50 songs, literally. Then they left and they came back and they did a 30-minute encore of essentially their greatest hits. I think it was an eight- or nine-song encore, and I found that really funny. The whole thing was kind of a joyous celebration, and then you knew it was over at the end. I’m pro-encore.”
“I think the idea of an encore is great if they have something left in the tank,” says United States of Americana host Bill DeVille. “If it’s a great song they haven’t played yet in their set, if it’s a standard, if it’s a great cover. I think it’s great to leave on a high note.”
Of course, there are lots of ways to leave on a high note. Morning Show producer Anna Weggel recounted one of her favorite shows. “The date was March 26, 2017. Regina Spektor was playing the Palace Theatre. She came right on, started immediately, and announced, ‘I will not be doing an encore tonight. We have no opener. You’re all going to be in your beds by 9:30.’ And the crowd erupted into cheers.”
This article was produced as a part of a collaboration between The Growler and The Current, Minnesota’s non-commercial, member-supported radio station playing the best authentic, new music alongside the music that inspired it. Find more great music content at growlermag.com and thecurrent.org.